“What’s new, Buenos Aires? Your nation, which a few years ago had the second largest gold reserves in the world, is bankrupt! A country which grew up and grew rich on beef is rationing it! La Prensa, one of the few newspapers which dares to oppose Peronism, has been silenced. And so have all other reasonable voices! I’ll tell you what’s new, Buenos Aires!”
—Che, in “She’s a Diamond” from Evita
FoxNews.com is reporting that a 15 year old Wisconsin high school student was censored and threatened by the school district superintendent over an op-ed piece in the school paper.
It seems that Brandon Wegner was asked to participate in a point-counterpoint discussion of an issue of current political significance. The problem for young Mr. Wegner was he had the “against” side on the paper’s choice of topics:
The point-counterpoint format is a common angle for a newspaper to take in its editorials, particularly a newspaper legitimately interested in balanced coverage. One would think that, in a school newspaper that is faculty-supervised and—I expect—written as part of a journalism class, running pieces like this is an excellent educational exercise. But, as you can already guess, with this particular topic, Mr. Wegner was basically screwed from the get-go.
You can check the piece out for yourself here. Wegner offered a spirited argument of his case against gay adoption, citing not only Biblical authority, but studies and statistics. Another student took the “for” side, and likewise offered an enthusiastic case. By any measure, the collective piece was a decent example of the open debate that is exactly what a point-counterpoint op-ed is supposed to be.
Then all hell broke loose.
Predictably, a gay couple whose child attends the high school bitched. The school immediately apologized, not for the choice of subject matter, and not for the piece as a whole, but that Wegner had had the audacity actually to take the “against” side of the issue. The school’s apology called Wegner’s opinion “a form of bullying and disrespect.”
Apparently, “vigorous debate,” like “bipartisanship,” means “you must agree with me.”
But it gets worse. After falling all over themselves to apologize, the district dragged Mr. Wegner down to the superintendent’s office—not the principal’s office, but the head of the whole freaking school district—where apparently he was berated for hours over his supposed violation of the school’s bullying policy. He was asked to sign an apology saying he regretted writing the piece—he refused. He was then threatened with suspension, and called “one of the most ignorant kids” for standing up for his beliefs.
Let me repeat that.
A school district superintendent took a 15 year old kid he disagreed with, tried to coerce him into recanting, threatened to suspend him, and berated him over his “ignorance.”
Maybe next time he’ll take on Mike Gundy.
I’m not here today to take sides on the substantive issue of gay adoption, although you can probably guess what I think. The thing that’s of importance here is the school district’s—and the superintendent’s in particular—conduct, which should be reprehensible to any reasonable person, regardless of your view on the political subject.
Let’s start with the fact that this kid was asked to write this piece, and to take the side of the opposition. He didn’t hack into the school’s website and unilaterally spew his message over the Internet. He didn’t commandeer the school’s P.A. system and lecture a captive audience over the loudspeakers. He didn’t spray paint anti-gay slurs on the school’s front door. He was asked to take one side of a controversial issue for an op-ed piece in the school paper—a paper that, I think it’s reasonable to presume, is subject to some editorial controls and faculty reviews before being published. Now, you could reasonably question the judgment of selecting such a polarizing topic for debate in a high school paper. But once the topic was selected, if there was a problem with the content of his article, why does there seem to be no hammer coming down on the faculty member(s) who let the thing be published?
In police work, it’s called “entrapment”—luring a person into committing an offense by inviting them to do so, then charging them with that very offense you encouraged them to commit.
Second, Wegner didn’t threaten anybody. He didn’t use foul language or hateful epithets like f*gg*t or qu**r. He did quote the Bible, and Heaven forbid anyone do that. You may not like to hear homosexual practices referred to as detestable or an “abomination,”—and I’m not here to argue over the authority or divine inspiration of either the Old or New Testaments—but those are the words the book of Leviticus uses in most English translations I’ve been able to find.
Third, there’s this pesky problem of the First Amendment, which applies to State organizations via the Fourteenth Amendment. This means it extends to public schools, which Justice Abe Fortas wrote in Tinker v. Des Moines ICSD, “may not be enclaves of totalitarianism.” I recognize that First Amendment rights are somewhat limited for school newspapers, where legitimate parochial concerns may permit some censorship in order to further the educational aims of the school; but that would have entitled the school to reject the topic or pull the piece, not berate and threaten the kid for writing it. Further, there’s a big difference between censorship due to content—we don’t, for example, have to permit a high school journalist to drop f-bombs all through his article—and censorship due to the expression of an opinion on a political issue. Political speech is the very essence of what the First Amendment is designed to protect.
There can be no doubt that this has absolutely everything to do with the substance of Mr. Wegner’s opinion—namely, that he opposes gay adoption. But the Left—and particularly the gay lobby—isn’t capable of rational discourse on these sorts of issues. They say they’re all about diversity and inclusion, but the tent’s never broad enough to cover anyone who disagrees with them. Speech is free, but only as long as you agree with them. I have a buddy who’s holding his breath waiting for the ACLU to show up to defend Mr. Wegner—to the contrary, I half expect them to mount a public campaign to pressure local police to arrest Mr. Wegner on hate crime charges.
Like the tired cries of racism we hear from the likes of Maxine Waters any time she doesn’t get her way, it’s empty and childish to accuse people of bullying and hate speech every time they disagree with you. I know you on the Left don’t like it, but the fact of the matter is there are a substantial number of people—in most states, significant, if not overwhelming majorities—who disagree with you on this issue. I’m not suggesting you have to change your view, but you don’t just get to say “I’m right, you’re a bully/bigot/racist/hatemonger, debate over, you shut up.”
American discourse doesn’t work that way.